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Sex and the supermarket

By Jackie Dent for CNN
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(CNN) -- When Otto Christian Lindemann joined the German erotica company Beate Uhse he found a business that was "a little bit old fashioned and not really very stylish."

Six years later, the board spokesman for the largest distributor of adult goods and entertainment in the world now sees vibrators sold alongside televisions in department stores in Holland and his sub brand Mae B, a chain of erotic shops for women, opening small outlets in Karstadt, a family-style department store in Germany.

"Nobody could imagine even a year ago that stores like this would be selling things like this," he says. "Erotica and sex is more and more a mainstream lifestyle choice."

Across the world, erotica is slowly being taken up by a coy corporate world.

Nestled in among the books and CDs, has surprising range of sexy goods, including a plethora of vibrators, black satin masks and "Men Climax Control Spray."

Pole-dancing kits can be found down at Tesco, one of the biggest supermarket chains in the UK, while clitoral stimulators are now stocked at the usually prim Boots drugstore.

In the U.S., mega porn star and businesswoman Jenna Jameson starred in a commercial for Adidas while fashion designer Marc Jacobs allowed a full sex scene to be shot in his Manhattan store for a blue remake of "La Dolce Vita."

How has the cultural shift come about? For Lindemann, the television show Sex and the City -- which featured the notoriously sex-hungry Samantha in a range of sexual situations with a cosmopolitan cocktail in hand -- helped change attitudes among young people.

Their interest is also being sparked by boutique businesses turning trendier, manufacturing dolphin-shaped vibrators in funky colors and producing vanilla-flavored condoms in round packets.

Savvas Christodoulou, managing director of Erotica Ltd, a company which puts on an annual erotica fair in London, happily cites the example of an elegantly dressed couple in their 90s wandering around his fair last year as a sign that social stigmas surrounding sex are fading.

Christodoulou, a former accountant for Pink Floyd, also points out that the industry has become more professional.

"The sex companies have budgets and forecasts; they are challenging laws and holding meetings with the Department of Culture," he says.

The value of the global erotic market -- made up of movies, toys, fetish gear, strip clubs, magazines, telephone sex lines, hot tub holidays and more - is impossible to put a price tag but some suggest it could be as high as US$60 billion. And while mainstream retailers may be comfortable taking a piece of this by selling naughty lingerie, X-rated movies are a different story.

Pornography on MP3 players and mobile phones is a potentially lucrative market, with Strategy Analystics suggesting delivery to mobile phones could be as high as US$1 billion by 2008. But despite the profits, corporate America is not comfortable entering the market.

Bloomberg columnist Mark Gilbert recently highlighted the image qualms about pornography by pointing out that Apple was not yet ready to cash in on "iPorn".

"Porn is, literally, the Internet's big dirty secret," he suggests, citing figures from TopTenReviews Inc, a site which analyses software products and Internet services, which estimates there are 4.2 million pornographic Web sites, with 372 million porn pages handling 68 million search requests per day.

Gilbert suggests that by allowing adult movies on its iTunes Internet store -- which could be delivered to Apple iPhones, if they made them -- the company could make enormous sums.

But he says it's hard to imagine Apple CEO Steve Jobs delivering a marketing presentation as a wall-sized video screen behind him fills with fleshy images of bump and grind.

"It's obvious, though, that porn would sit badly with Apple's self-image... Apple is all about whiteness and purity, not smut," he writes.

The caution is understandable. The spread of pornography has also seen a strengthening of the anti-porn movement, which is particularly powerful in the US. Groups such Concerned Women for America and the National Law Center for Children and Families are not only concerned about moral issues related to pornography but child pornography and protecting children from pornographic web sites.

While barriers about the sex industry may be coming down, X-rated films remain the highest largely because of these serious concerns about access.

With such concerns, Lindemann from Beate Uhse says new television stations and cable companies are expressing interest in erotic movies, but they want it "in a clean way," akin to more soft porn. "It's a kind of erotic that is not easy to do the right way," he says. "We have to work out how to do it."

If there is a buck to be made, a new film genre of "iLitePorn" -- that sits comfortably with vibrators and massage oils in supermarkets -- could be coming to a cinema near you.

Erotica is slowly breaking into the mainstream.

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